Dirt in your skirt blog

Origins of Dirt in Your Skirt

Posted on July 25, 2012 by Margaret Schlachter

While digging through old papers and getting ready to once again move in October I came across a stack of papers I wrote in college. The inner packrat in me has a hard time throwing things like this out. I had completely forgotten about this paper and as I flipped through found one I wrote for Intro to Gender Studies called, “Dirt In Your Skirt”. This is the first documented time I can find that I used this phrase and subconsciously used it again when I created this blog. Many have asked to read the paper and here it is from October 2003:

Dirt in Your Skirt

            Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Lobo said, “There’s a negative stigma that goes along with being a female athlete, that you can’t be feminine and still be an athlete…I think you can be a woman on and off the court. But you can also be a great competitor on and off the court. I don’t think there is anything wrong with mixing the two.” (qtd. in Doten 107) This statement brings together the two issues that plague women in athletics; the combination of sexuality and aggressiveness. The idea of “mixing the two” is a foundation in women’s sports today, as seen through the evolution of the uniform and the behavior of female athletes both on and off the field.

            Imagine this scenario: as she left the locker room her skirt was hugging her butt, no underwear lines, her legs just shaven. Her top was accentuating all her assets without a sign of perspiration. She had her hair pulled up in a tight ponytail without a hair out of place. She was ready to show them what she was made of.  The scenario just described is not one of a post game freshly showered athlete. This is how the modern day collegiate field hockey, woman’s lacrosse, and woman’s tennis player is dressed to head out to competition. The scenario sounds more like a clubbing and evening outfit than one that an athlete would wear to competition. The whole scenario when read out of text could be mistaken for an opening of a seduction scene in a movie, not a sporting event. However, today’s female collegiate athletes are strutting out onto the field in short spandex skirts and tight tops to engage in these ever growing sports in America.

To put this idea of short skirts in sports into context, let us take women’s collegiate lacrosse as an example. The uniform from ten or fifteen years ago worn by a player looked more appropriate for the classroom than the field. The typical uniform consisted of a pleated plaid skirt and a tucked in polo shirt. This outfit pulls into Lorber’s idea of the female athlete being portrayed as a young girl or nymph like creature, not the aggressive state that sport is (45). As the sport of women’s lacrosse has become more aggressive the uniform of the players has become more feminine. Today the uniforms are tighter fitting and more revealing than ever before as the players are stronger and more aggressive. As women have become more aggressive on the field the need to preserve sexuality and sexual appeal heightens. Thus the implementation of more and more provocative uniform seems to follow a pattern.  

If one goes back in time women have historically have worn uniforms which made them feminine while performing “masculine traits.”  At the turn of the 20th century if women played sports, many competed in long dresses. The idea of the female athlete wearing a skirt or dress to perform a sport is to keep the mystic of femininity in an otherwise unfeminine arena. On the field the attitudes and actions of the players may be equal if not even more aggressive to there male counterparts, however the idea of the skirt makes her more dainty and fragile looking. It is the notion that a skirt will mask the athlete’s aggression, which has been fueled by the age old idea that clothes can add femininity.

Off the field, clothes are also used to add femininity. Brandi Chastain, U.S. national soccer team star said, “We’re women who like to knock people’s heads off [on the field], and then put on a skirt and go dance.” (qtd. in Doten 265) Lorber discusses this idea of femininity and hyper femininity off the field by female athletes. She discusses the beauty ritual the female athlete has before she gets back on the bus to leave a competition. Lorber calculates this time be about three times as long as the she spends getting dressed prior to competition. The time difference is attributed to the fact she not only showers during this time she is also dries her hair and applies makeup to go back to being a “the woman” no longer “the athlete.” (44)

This time spent transforming herself from “the athlete” to “the women” suggesting that female athletes see themselves as having two distinct personalities. First, the on-field personality is an aggressive, loud, and fiery character who will not take no for an answer; to the off the field personality of a posed, subdued figure who is humble barely acknowledging her athletic achievements for fear of being seen as unfeminine and manly.

This dichotomy of socially excepted ideas has left many female athletes struggling with their own self esteem and identity. These girls and women do not know whether they are their on-the- field personality or their off- the-field personality. If these girls and women choose to be one; they have to weigh in how it affects the other. It is not until a female athlete reaches the highest levels of her sport that society will allow her to relish in her success.  The idea of fitting into the social norm’s is what tends to direct female athletes to suppress their on field behavior and actions by compensating with a hyper-feminine off the field appearance. A few examples of hyper femininity in off the field female behaviors are the women seen with makeup on at all times when not engaged in their sport with their hair long either swept up in a pony tail or blow dried to perfection. They often wear super feminine colors such as pinks, light blues and other pastels off the field, and are frequently in skirts and dresses or slightly revealing clothing. Sometimes these women choose to perform their sports with makeup on during competition. This is seen in the more common sports of gymnastics and figure skating but also seen in alpine skiing, curling, and body building. By doing this she proves to not only society but also to herself that she is still a female and a sexual being, not a jock.

The word jock sends a shiver down many female athletes’ spines. Visions of male football players and big beefy men come to mind when this word is mentioned. For some to be a jock or be called a jock is an insult. Many women see themselves as a female athlete not like their male counterpart “the jock.”  To be referred to as a jock can mean to a woman that she is no longer thought of as feminine. She has become “one of the boys” and is no longer that of sexual desire. So therefore to combat this stereotyped image, she parades around off the field in the dresses and makeup to prove to society and herself that she is still a creature of desire.

It is the idea of desire and remaining desirable which fuels the modern day athletes to create dual identities. It is further through the use of feminizing uniforms that female athletes maintain the look of “sexy” on the field. They continue to maintain this sexual look off the field with hyper feminine clothes. This is done to fit into society; for it is society that drives the fashion ideals of American female athletes today.

It is amazing for me to read this nine years later and look at what my twenty year old self was thinking and writing. Today, many of the points my younger self made are true however, I feel now being closer to thirty than twenty that you create the person you are. You create the athlete you are, and you control your destiny.

Today I would tell that twenty year old to follow who they want to be. To act as they want to act and not base judgements on what societies perception is or should be. I don’t think anymore you are one persona or another. I think we are a blend of it all.